New 2021 EY Law Survey Shows Law Departments Need to Do Even More with Less

The results from the 2021 EY Law Survey (discussed on the EY site here) were published earlier this month, and they support much of what industry experts were predicting in 2020: namely that corporate law departments will continue to have to do more with less.

“The survey was conducted by EY, along with the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, in early 2021, surveying more than 2,000 business leaders—half of them in law departments—across 17 industries and 22 countries,” according to Bloomberg Law.

Last year at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the legal industry predicted a rise in litigation as a result, and the EY survey supports this with 25% of General Counsel expecting workload increases over the next three years. More work is good news, right?

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Not when 88% are also expecting budget cuts driven by their CEOs and boards.

One might suggest using technology to close the gap (in fact, 59% of general counsel say greater use of legal technology can help them reduce costs), especially when the survey found that “87% of legal department leaders say they spend too much time on low-value, routine tasks.” But the answer isn’t quite as easy as a grocery store installing extra self-checkout lanes when budgets won’t allow them to hire more checkers.

According to the survey, 97% say getting buy-in from the C-suite is the biggest challenge when it comes to implementing technology. Being able to show a technology’s ROI, with real data instead of sales pitches, is key here. Every vendor promises gains in efficiency and reductions in cost. Being able to work closely with a legal department and show (not tell) how that will happen is vital now more than ever.

Part of the problem is that the best technology in the world won’t help if a legal team’s processes aren’t streamlined and efficient. Sure, I could go out and buy the same bicycle as Lance Armstrong, but I’ll never win the Tour de France. I wouldn’t even win my age group in a local race. Because I haven’t done the work in training and preparing.

It’s the same with eDiscovery processes and other operations in a corporate legal department. The team should be a well-oiled machine. Processes should be templatized and repeatable, instead of reinventing the wheel every time. Data challenges should be understood before litigation arises.

When a department is already operating lean and sharp, then the addition of technology can elevate what is already in place. If your department is still struggling with stakeholder communications and ESI protocols, the latest AI probably isn’t going to bring an immediate return on investment.

And the same goes with hiring. In the same way that people tend to throw technology at problems, they also will simply increase headcount. John Knox, EY’s global legal managed services leader and a report contributor, suggests a more deliberate approach to hiring in order to gain budget efficiencies by matching the best people for the jobs at hand, while reallocating funds for technology.

He said, “Instead of hiring five lawyers, companies could hire two and use the other positions for a project manager, legal technologist and process engineer, Or, they could use the hiring budget for technology or outsourcing instead.”

Which leads to my final takeaway from the 2021 EY Law Survey: 85% of general counsel use alternative legal service providers, up from 72% in 2019. The rise of ALSPs has been going on for the past few years, and this shows that trend continuing into 2021.

The idea of doing more with less is nothing new. But as corporate legal departments find themselves driven by executives to align with business operations instead of being cost-centers, they’ll have to continue fine-tuning their combinations of people, process, and technology in order to meet the challenges ahead.

What do you think? Do the 2021 EY Law Survey results align with what you’re seeing in the legal tech industry for 2021?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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